The Non-Compete Debate - with Myself

Today the Boston Globe published an article suggesting that the great (sarcasm) state of Massachusetts should repeal a longstanding law allowing Non-Compete agreements to be enforced (though oddly, ONLY for Tech Companies - so it's totally fine for everyone else).

It specifically called out EMC as a long-standing enforcer of these agreements.

Thus, my two cents.

I completely get the reason why a STATE would not want to have non-compete agreements in this area. People (employees) are severely restricted here - you can't move around as freely as you would like, and that in turn means that some folk are going to leave and head to more open pastures. That happens a lot here. When that happens, guys like Mark Zuckerberg pack up and head west - and take the billions of value and thousands of jobs with them. That is bad for the STATE. But it wasn't bad for Facebook. Nor its employees.

And therein lies the rub. Why should EMC (or anyone for that matter) pay you to do a job, TEACH you how to excel at that job, train you, nurture you, expand your capabilities only to let you then run away and apply all that you learned to now help a competitor? If that competitor was just down the road from Hopkinton - it would at least be good for the STATE - but it would suck for EMC. Thus, I don't blame them one bit for suing the crap out of you.

Having said that, most states do enforce proprietary information laws - i.e., you can't take your rolodex with you, you can't take inside knowledge and use it, etc. That, in theory, protects the employer from you the person, or your new employer, from benefiting from information gathered at your previous job - whether it can directly hurt them or not. I have zero issue with someone suing the hell out of you for being stupid enough to take stuff with you to help
"jumpstart" your competive career elsewhere. If you are really that dumb, you should not only pay out the wazoo, but whoever hired you should immediately fire you. That's a different story.

So as a good citizen of the world, I'm fundamentally opposed to the idea of non-competes because at least here in good old Taxachusetts (or as I like to lovingly refer to it, Nepotism East) it limits the amount of brain power that will stay in the state, which limits the amount of intelligence to offset the moronity. That's bad.

But as an employer, who spends a lot of time and effort (and dough) to provide opportunities to raise the game and skills of people, it would piss me off royally to have someone take those skills and use them against me. And don't even get me started on having some total schmuck dope leave to open up their own direct competitor (seriously, have an original thought for once.). I should be able to be protected from that, no?

To continue my argument with myself, what if the roles were reversed? What if I was the total idiot and the person who left to compete was brilliant - and capable of starting a whole new (imaginative and original) company - that in turn succeeded wildly and hired lots of people who pay lots of taxes? That would benefit both the state and the people, and arguably, would allow Darwinism to reset the natural order. How can that be bad?

So this debate will come down to a man vs. masses argument. Government, in theory, is supposed to provide the benefit to the masses, while protecting the rights of the individual. Therefore, I am willing to bet that nothing will change in MA. Because doing the right thing for the masses is not something this state likes to do normally, and with EMC's awesome power as the state's largest employer (I think that is still true), and a legitimate argument, I suspect nothing will change. But I do enjoy both sides of the debate. Even if it's by myself.

Finally, what's also completely interesting is that EMC is really the only place anyone that works at EMC can really work for in MA. Other than a small startup community, there are no more big tech companies here except EMC. So EMC's problem is really across state lines and their ability to continue to get employees to sign MA based non-competes. Which eventually probably turns this into a federal issue and god knows what could happen then, as I have slightly less confidence in the federal government's ability to solve this type of issue than I do in the state's.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure